By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
As the immigration debate heats up again in Washington, one local group is approaching the topic from a different angle — understanding and integration.
The Denver Coalition for Integration, formed in 2008, is working to bridge gaps between immigrants and the communities they move to in order to reach a level of understanding through education.
“The intent of the group today is to really bridge the receiving and immigrant communities in Denver and to promote integration as a two-way street within Denver,” said Amber Tafoya, project director of the Coalition for Integration.
The group hosts neighborhood dialogues within individual Denver communities, where individuals are encouraged to broach subjects that might not only be controversial, but also unfamiliar territory to some.
The meetings might include movie nights, in which documentaries on immigration or domestic violence are shown, or just simple dialogue nights between members of the community, in which residents might discuss how immigration law works and whether it is effective.
The meetings are held in local coffee shops and restaurants.
An arm of the Coalition for Integration focuses on workshops that encourage civic engagement opportunities for immigrants and refugees so that they can become more involved with the city’s civic dialogue, said Tafoya. After all, the intent is integration.
Tafoya said the dialogues rarely become debates, with the focus being mostly on the experiences of both immigrant and non-immigrant Denver residents living in the city.
“The hope is that through people sharing their experiences, people will understand each other a little bit better,” she said. “The idea is to promote communication, to promote understanding and to promote people to really develop their relationships within the groups.”
Kevin Mohatt, a Denver resident who has attended several of the Coalition for Integration’s meetings, said he hopes meetings like these will help facilitate an honest and open debate as Congress discusses comprehensive immigration reform.
The White House is calling for immigration reform efforts to begin as early as the beginning of next year. Obama administration officials are calling for a “three-legged stool” approach that includes tougher enforcement of immigration laws, including a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers; a streamlined system for legal immigration; and a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.
Mohatt believes a lack of education and understanding is what makes the debate so heated.
“One of the problems is that a lot of the people who are against comprehensive reform don’t know enough about the other side of the issue,” he said. “They think immigrants are coming to steal jobs and to be getting Medicaid, but when you see that people are coming here, risking their lives to get here, they’re obviously doing it for a much bigger reason. They want a better life, which is such a bigger issue than people coming to take your jobs.”
“If there’s some integration and people from both sides of the fence are actually hearing each others stories and there’s better understanding, then that’s better for everyone,” continued Mohatt.
The Denver Coalition for Integration will be hosting an Intercultural Winter Holiday Party on Dec. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at 1029 Santa Fe Drive.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters